Police have been granted the right to 'hack' any PC without a warrant.

European ministers initially approved the move last month, although the plans are still being developed by the Home Office and EU ministries.

The Home Office has confirmed that any 'hacking' will first have to be approved by a chief constable. It is also thought plans are being drawn up to allow law enforcement agencies from all EU member states to access PCs in the UK, if necessary, during criminal investigations.

Keg-logging software, viruses that transmit information about the content of emails sent and websites browsed and monitoring wireless networks are just some of the methods thought to be used by the police to access computers.

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However, the proposals have raised a number of concerns from civil-liberties groups. Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights campaign group Liberty, told the Independent: "This is no different from breaking down someone's door, rifling through their paperwork and seizing their computer hard drive".

"The police service in the United Kingdom will aggressively pursue serious and organised criminality, including where that takes the modern forms of hi-tech crime," added a spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers.

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